by Cole Pepper
Jaguars owner Shad Khan has completed his purchase of English Premier League team Fulham for a reported $300 million. I’ve already been asked on social media media and on a podcast what Fulham can expect from Khan as an owner.
If history is any guide, there will be change, but not right away.
When Khan purchased the Jacksonville Jaguars in December of 2012, the announcement was made the same day as the firing of head coach Jack Del Rio and the extension of general manager Gene Smith’s contract. While these decisions were made by Wayne Weaver, they were endorsed by Khan.
13 months later, Smith was fired and so was the coach he recommended, Mike Mularkey after just one year. Khan had spent his first season as an NFL owner learning and observing the processes and people involved with the organization. And not just on the football side.
When Weaver owned the Jaguars, he was in the office every day and served as the de facto team President (although nobody held that title). Even though Weaver had other business interests, he used EverBank Field as his center of operations and the Jaguars were his biggest business.
Conversely, Khan has Flex-N-Gate, his international auto parts business to deal with. He makes frequent trips to Jacksonville, but continues to live most of the year in Illinois, where Flex-N-Gate is headquartered. That’s why he hired a team president, Mark Lamping, to run the day-to-day business operations of the Jaguars.
Also of note, from the time that Khan purchased the team, only two senior vice presidents remain. There has been huge turnover at the top of the front office food chain, as the Jaguars have brought in new people to handle sponsorship, ticket sales, legal, finance and created a new fan engagement department. These changes didn’t happen overnight. Although Khan had been pursuing ownership in the NFL for several years, he wanted to see how things worked from the inside. It’s not unlike the way he once attacked the car bumper business.
In an interview with Forbes Magazine in March, here’s what Khan said about his first season as an NFL owner, a year that saw the Jaguars win just 2 games and tie for the worst record in the league:
I don’t think just coming into the league right away you would have figured out what are the attributes for a successful head coach or what are the attributes for a successful general manager. As the year went on, meeting some of the other professionals in the sport, that was good. Certainly as the season progressed, there’s only two outcomes. You’re either going to make a change or keep people and you have to be prepared to do both.
I suspect that Khan will take the same approach with Fulham, whose Premier League season begins in August. Watch how things play out, find some people he can trust to give him some perspective on what is happening, gather information, then make a plan to mold Fulham into the organization that he believes will be the most successful. If he follows the blueprint used with the Jaguars, Khan will enlist his top people with Fulham to create a list of the biggest obstacles that are keeping the team from a championship. Then, he’ll determine the cause of those obstacles and create a plan to eliminate those causes. Those plans will likely not be subtle.
Case in point: there was a perception that it was more difficult to lure big name free agents to Jacksonville because under Weaver’s ownership, there wasn’t as much capital to be spent on players, which over the previous several years was the case as Weaver positioned the team to be sold. Khan’s solution? Spend $3 million on a new, state of the art locker room, which is one of the best in the NFL. This off-season, the Khan is also spending money to upgrade the training and workout facilities. He doesn’t want to lose out on a prospective free agent for any reason that he can control.
The biggest business hurdle the Jaguars faced was local revenue which come largely from ticket sales and corporate sponsorship packages. Those were two major areas of focus in Khan’s first year owning the Jaguars. Khan will almost certainly assess Fulham’s biggest obstacles, both on the pitch and in business, and begin to implement a plan to improve those processes at some point within the first year of ownership. His goal with Fulham, as it is with the Jaguars, is to build a sustainable winner.
If facilities are an issue, Khan won’t hesitate to spend capital to improve them. In June, Khan announced that he would spend $20 million of his own money on a $63 million stadium improvement plan (the city of Jacksonville will pay the rest, as the stadium is owned by the city).
In short, money, or lack thereof, will not be an obstacle to building a winner. Khan’s net worth is estimated at $2.9 billion. The will to win is not a question with Khan. To me, it comes down to this: will Khan find the right people to advise him and provide him with the information that he needs to make the right decisions. If history is any indication, that answer will be yes.
About the author: Cole Pepper spent 15 seasons on the Jaguars Radio Network as the studio host and from March, 2010-April, 2013 also worked in the Jaguars sponsorship department. He is no longer an employee or contractor of the Jaguars.